Teaching Online vs. A Traditional Classroom: Are they really that different?

Teaching in an online environment contains many of the same issues found in the traditional classroom. Teachers must know their content area and be able to adjust curriculum to best meet the needs of their students. Over the past decade technology has grown tremendously and created new delivery methods that can greatly enhance learning for students. This growth in technology has created many new issues that teachers must consider before teaching in an online environment.

Teachers in must have a good working knowledge of their field of study. While this is a basic requirement of teaching any course, the online environment requires that teachers spend time developing good resources that can be accessed online. With the growth of electronic media the ease of putting information on the web has created many resources that must be screened before allowing students to use them. This requires the teacher to do more than a Google search and bookmark a couple of quick resources. They must investigate and research these sources of information to ensure that they are in fact worthwhile and credible. Along with researching and developing a good set of resources, teachers must be technically proficient in using technology to best meet the needs of their students.

As technology continues to grow, teachers must spend time researching new technologies that may enhance student learning. It is important for them to spend time learning about the various mediums such as: SCORMs, WIKI’s, Blogs, Forums, Chat, and Webquests to be able to use them effectively. Like traditional methodologies, online methodologies require time by teachers to study up on the new and latest developments in electronic media going beyond a word processor and PowerPoint to communicate with students.

The two most important issues to consider in teaching in an online environment are communication and organization. Just like traditional classrooms, lesson plans are critical. Getting the message across to students is the ultimate goal. With the limitations of communication with students, how you communicate in an online environment is critical. This requires teachers to be able to communicate effectively using technology and written word. What you say is as important as how it is organized and presented. Chunking information in small pieces and organization are key components of a good online course. Once a student is lost or confused, learning stops and may not start again for some time.

Online education requires teachers to go beyond just the traditional knowledge of their subjects, but to develop good resources, use the latest technologies, communicate and organize information to best meet the needs to their students and promote learning.

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Education is like a math problem TEACHER + STUDENT + PARENT = SUCCESSFUL EDUCATION.   To get the correct answer you must have all of the data correctly imputed into the equation.   If you are missing any one of the three, your answer will be incorrect.  In education today we seem to be focusing on one aspect of the equation – the teacher.  While this attention is good and the ideas being generated are beneficial, it is still only part of the equation.  Often times we over look the role of the student and parents in this equation.

Over the past week, I have had three different conversations with students that have made me ponder this topic.  My conversation went like this.  “Billy – what’s going on buddy? I’m not getting much in the way of work from you.”  Billy responds with, ” Yeah I know.”   “Well Billy if I don’t get some work ,how are you going to pass this class?”  Billy then responds with, “I guess I won’t.”  “Don’t you want to be able to get a good job and provide for a family in the future?”  Billy responds with, “Yeah but my parent never graduated, and they do just fine.”  The equation in this instance is broken.

Often times educational reform does not consider the needs of the students and the culture in which the student lives.  These are two critical components of the educational equation.  Without addressing these needs, we can fire every teacher, create new laws, and new curriculum; but we will still get the wrong answer, because we have only addressed one aspect of the equation.  All of the government plans and programs address the teacher and set goals for schools, but none of this can be achieved if we do not address the needs of the students and our country’s view of education.

Everyone agrees that education is a priority in our culture.  But is it truly?  If it is a priority, then we as a society need to do whatever we can to support and improve education.  Currently, all we see are cuts  in education, so obviously this is not a priority.  If  it was, we would look at other areas in budget to make cuts.  This is not to say that we should not make any cuts in education, but rather if it was a true priority cuts would be minimal.  To reform education we must address all of the parts of the equation.

If we as a society truly support education, then we need to show that we do.  When we look at educational reform we must look at student needs, society’s view of education, and teaching standards and address all aspects of the equation to truly alter our educational system.  We have to remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  True reform must contain all of the elements of the equation to truly be successful.

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Is Student Customization of Technology Critical?

I have found that no matter what I do with technology and my students, nothing is as powerful as giving them the ability to customize an application to suit them.  Not only does it motivate them to use the technology, but in the process of customization they also learn how to use the technology.  Having a student respond to a forum by just posting an answer is the same as having them just write it out in class.  Students see this a boring task that can, in fact, turn them off of technology.   Allowing students to customize technology is a key function in the use of technology in secondary education.

Here is a question.  What types of programs and/or applications should we use to allow students to express themselves?  Please post what you use in your class in the comment box below.

  • Here is one example that I have begun to use.  ClassPress is a blogging system that is quite reasonable for secondary educators.  It is only $20 or so a year.  It does allow them to control what their page, font and other aspects of their blog look like.
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